Vancouver International Film Festival
“Lemon Tree” played as part of the Cinema of our Time Series at the 2008 Vancouver International Film Festival.
“Lemon Tree” is the latest film from award-winning director Eran Riklis, his first since 2004’s critically-lauded film, “The Syrian Bride”.
The film is based on the true story of Salma Zidane, a Palestinian woman who makes a living on the lemon tree grove she owns, which sits right on the Palestinian/Israeli border, where a wall is planned to be built. Salma’s world becomes uncertain as the new Israeli Defense Minister becomes her new neighbour, right on the other side of that border.
As tension builds between Salma and her new neighbours, she is soon told that her lemon grove is a security risk for the Israeli politician, and must be fenced off, and then cut down.
Unable to accept what most call the inevitable, as land claims and fights of evictions of Palestinians seldom prevail in court, Salma hires a lawyer, forming an “unexpected” (to everyone but the viewers, anyway) bond with him, and finds herself on newspaper pages, fighting a seemingly impenetrable bureaucracy.
Acting is the driving force of this mostly-ripped-from-the-headlines film. Hiam Abbass plays Salma Zidane as a woman resolute to preserve the only source of identity she has left: the lemon trees her father left to her.
Despite the strong acting, certain characters, like the sympathetic young soldier who is mostly used for comic relief, or the strict secret service man who is only following orders, come of, at best, as two-dimensional.
Though visually powerful in some scenes, particularly the last one, for me, “Lemon Tree” lacks a unique approach, and often veers into predictable melodrama that obscures the complexities of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.
What I found the most interesting and wish was explored further was the parallel between the main character, Salma, and Mira, the Israeli Defense Minister’s dutiful wife. Both women are inwardly strong but seem trapped in dilemmas that will leave them heartbroken no matter what choice they make. Their struggle mirrors that of countless people on all sides of this complex conflict.